Fr. Thomas Lawless, OSFS, was a legendary principal from 1945-1958 at Salesianum. Thomas Aloysius Lawless was born in 1891. Like many early Salesianum students, he came from a poor Irish Catholic family in Wilmington. His short stature and slight frame quickly earned him the nickname "Mouse" among his classmates at the original Salesianum at 8th and West Streets. Even as a senior, Tom was barely five feet tall and weighed only one hundred pounds. But as a fiercely proud Salesianum graduate of the class of 1908, Tom's feisty determination and dedication to his studies foreshadowed later accomplishments. After graduation, he became the first Salesianum alumnus to join the Oblates.
Armed with his signature pipe, The Mouse revamped and improved the academic program, grew student enrollment from 200 to over 1200, and built a new Salesianum at 18th and Broom Streets, completed in 1957. In the face of opposition and prejudice, his decision to invite five African American students to join the school in 1950 made Salesianum the first integrated school in Delaware, more than three years before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Fr. Lawless remarked, "I see nothing to apologize for other than the fact that it wasn't done years ago."
Fr. Lawless also made significant contributions to Catholic education locally as superintendent and nationally on the Board of Directors for the National Catholic Education Association. His two years as a military chaplain with the American Expeditionary Forces demonstrate the courage that made Lawless a Legend. He was honored with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, the Chalice Award of the Knights of Columbus, the citation of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and induction into the inaugural class of the Salesianum Hall of Fame in 2003. He died in 1966, but the legend of The Mouse that roared lives on.
Salesianum School re-dedicated our library In the name of Rev. Thomas A. Lawless, OSFS, 1908, and has the words, “Whose Own Opinions Not Only Made Knowledge But History" on the plaque when you enter the library.